Editorial | Speaker right to resign
Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert ultimately did the right thing by stepping down as Speaker of the House. She has also decided to leave Parliament.
But it needed such public outcry. Having been warned for prosecution by the Integrity Commission (IC) for allegedly lying in her asset- declaration filings, and possibly facing additional jeopardy over the apparent misuse of her motor vehicle duty concession, it should have been clear to Ms Dalrymple-Philibert that her position, at least as Speaker, was untenable. As it ought to have been to Prime Minister Andrew Holness from the time he became aware of the IC’s report and its findings. For the accusations against Ms Dalrymple-Philibert are so serious that it would send a profoundly bad signal to the society if she – as she attempted to do – was allowed to hang on and preside over the work of an institution whose actions are so deeply impactful on citizens’ lives and on the functioning of the State. The effect would only be to further erode trust and undermine confidence in Jamaica’s democracy.
Moreover, there was nothing, in these circumstances, for Mr Holness to gain – but, perhaps, deeper embarrassment – from expending political capital in Ms Dalrymple-Philibert’s favour
She wasn’t a good Speaker despite the best efforts of many people to help her save herself from herself.
TRAPPED IN THE ARENA
Fundamentally, Ms Dalrymple-Philibert remains trapped in the arena of partisan combatants, defined by tribal loyalties, and thus incapable of of extricating herself from sectarian melees – as she demonstrated again on Tuesday when she not only clung rigidly to the Speaker’s seat, but with flicks of switches stifled the Opposition’s right to be heard on the issue.
In this manipulation of the microphones were echoes of the Ms Dalrymple-Philibert’s handling of the George Wright affair and several subsequent rulings, when balance was sacrificed for jaundiced advantage, such as her egregious attempt to end the Opposition’s right to call for divisions of the House, and her recent infamous move to delay the tabling of certain reports sent to Parliament by the auditor general.
The issue that now confronts the former Speaker has to do with her failure to report in her integrity filings her de jure, ownership of a motorcar that she bought in 2015, utilising a 20 per cent duty rebate that is available to public servants, including parliamentarians. This concession is accessible every three years. The vehicle was registered to Ms Dalrymple-Philibert until it was sold last year.
According to the IC’s investigative report, the car was largely financed with a bank loan acquired by the life partner of the former Speaker’s sister. But Ms Dalrymple-Philibert guaranteed the debt, which she apparently didn’t remember until she was jogged into recall by IC questioners.
Over seven years, although the car was insured each year and she signed the transfer documents at its sale in 2022, Ms Dalrymple-Philibert never listed it as an asset. She didn’t remember her ownership because, she explained to IC investigators, “my sister had the vehicle for so long in Kingston”.
“I never drove it and I never had possession … ,” she said at one point.
On whether she received the proceeds from the sale of the vehicle, the Speaker said: “No! No! No! I have received no funds from the sale of the vehicle.”
Ms Dalrymple-Philibert’s sister said she drove the vehicle when she did business on behalf of the Speaker, who lives in northern Jamaica. Her partner, Ms Dalrymple-Philibert’s ‘brother in law’, said family members drove it, including Ms Dalrymple-Philibert, sometimes when she was in Kingston.
Under the law and regulations governing motor -vehicle duty concessions to public servants, the benefit isn’t transferable. The vehicle, which can be sold after three years, is expected to be in the control of the beneficial owner.
And any upkeep and travelling allowance received by the public servant can only be with respect to the vehicle currently covered by the duty concession.
Ms Dalrymple-Philibert insists that it was merely an oversight, a lapse of memory, why she didn’t list the vehicle, on which she enjoyed a J$1.58 million concession, in her annual asset, liabilities, and income statements.
In her resignation statement, Ms Dalrymple-Philibert said that the Integrity Commission, in its report, raised no “question or concern about the source of funding of the vehicle” and stressed that she continued ownership of it over seven years.
Those details, and the former Speaker’s interpretation of them, this newspaper leaves to courts.
Suffice it to say that the Integrity Commission found aspects of her explanation difficult to fathom. Indeed, its director of corruption prosecution ruled that Ms Dalrymple-Philibert be prosecuted on eight counts of making false statements in her filings, covering each year she didn’t list the vehicles. If convicted, she can, with respect to the latter years, 2018 to 2020 (two reports), she can be fined J$2 million or jailed for two years.
But further, its director of investigations recommended that Customs seek to claw back, with interest, the duty concession that was enjoyed by Ms Dalrymple-Philibert and that the finance ministry attempt to recoup travel allowances paid to her between 2016 and 2020 on the basis of a vehicle other than the one to which the concession applied before she became Speaker and was assigned an SUV from Parliament’s pool.
By resigning, Ms Dalrymple-Philibert removed a distraction that shouldn’t reside in the Speaker’s chair.